By Jose San Mateo

California children may be better off growing up elsewhere, and the culprit looks like the state’s K-12 education system.

In a national survey that measures a child’s chance of success throughout life, California ranks 34th among all states. The researchers at the nonprofit Editorial Projects in Education Research Center (EPERC) in Washington D.C. compiled statistics from 13 different categories ranging from parents’ employment and English language fluency to children’s test scores and graduation rates. The statistics for each state were then stacked up against the national average in order to determine the ranking.

California lags behind the national average in areas of English and math proficiency among elementary school and middle school students. According to the report, 21 percent of fourth graders are proficient in reading, seven points below the national average. The results are almost identical in math proficiency among eighth graders.

Pablo Reguerin, deputy director of the Educational Partnership Center (EPC), which is the outreach arm of UC Santa Cruz, emphasized the importance of reading and math skills in early education.

"There are certain areas in the pipeline where students face problems," Reguerin said in an interview with City on a Hill Press (CHP). "When students are not reading by the third grade and up, it becomes a major problem."

This setback in early education is one of the primary reasons California ranks so low in the national ranking, according to Patrick Miller, a researcher with the EPERC.

"Linguistic integration is one of the main areas [in which] California loses ground," Miller said.

Linguistic integration refers to the number of student’s parents that are fluent in English. California has the lowest percentage among all 50 states in linguistic integration, at only 62 percent-over 22 percent below the national average.

Larry Trujillo, the executive director of Student Academic Support Services at UCSC, which provides academic help to many second language students, believes that students who speak English as a second language are put at a particular disadvantage because they have not mastered enough of the language to do well on standardized tests. Part of the blame for this may fall on a child’s parents.

"Parents come to the United States for a better education for [their] children," Trujillo said. "But some don’t have the language or education to help these children."

Critics of the state’s education system blame California’s schools for not adequately preparing ESL students to succeed. Miller said that California is "weakest in education" and Trujillo called the K-12 system in California an "absolute crisis."

California’s educational woes may have their root in national education policy. The federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), implemented in 2001, aims to improve the performance of schools by raising accountability standards for each state, but it has caused significant problems in California.

"The No Child Left Behind policy is a much bigger crisis," Trujillo said. "It’s difficult to get students proficient in [math and English], but the standards have doubled and it’s getting to the point where nobody is passing."

The Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) provision of NCLB, which monitors achievement levels among second language and low-income students, requires schools to offer parents the option of moving their children to another school if theirs do not reach adequate AYP levels within two years. According to the California Department of Education website, four out of the nine schools in Santa Cruz have not reached their AYP within the two-year time frame.

Assemblyman John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) explained some of the logistical problems with NCLB in a recent phone interview with CHP.

"The problem [with NCLB] is that it is totally inadequately funded and the standards are very different from state standards," he said.

However, the state legislature may have a shot at addressing some of the shortfalls in education in the coming weeks. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger submitted his 2007-2008 budget proposal to the legislature last week to review and propose any changes in the budget.

"We [now] have the power of the budget to try and address problems in education," Laird said.